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Religious rejection: Iowa's Jonathan Wilson is the latest target of lawmakers who make no bones about voting strictly on their religious views.

Is there no separation of church and state when it comes to gay and lesbian issues? That was the case in Iowa when state senators rejected the nomination of an openly gay man to the state school board because his homosexuality ran counter to their religious beliefs.

Iowa's Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack, nominated Jonathan Wilson, a lawyer who served on the Des Moines school board for 12 years until he lost his reelection bid in 1995 after publicly coming out. Wilson's nomination sparked a controversy, mid on April 13 he came 12 votes short of the 34 needed for confirmation. "I believe [the senators] established a litmus test based on a difference of religious perspectives," Wilson said. "I don't hold the same religious perspectives as they do, and that's what drove this decision."

The debate over Wilson's nomination drew one politician out of the closet. Republican opponent Ken Veenstra outed fellow senator Matt McCoy on the senate floor. McCoy, a Democrat, later confirmed for The Advocate that he is gay and said that Veenstra and other Iowa lawmakers are trying to "institute a state religion. I think it makes us look like a bunch of backward rubes."

Religious arguments have recently surfaced in governmental bodies in places outside of Iowa, including Westminster, Calif., where school board trustees in April invoked their religious beliefs in refusing to implement a new state law that protects transgendered students. Finally the state allowed them to write their own policy. "The sad reality is that religion is increasingly enmeshed in state affairs," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It gives license to people across the country to exercise bigotry in the name of deeply held beliefs."

Veenstra acknowledged that his and other senators' Christian beliefs played a key role in the decision to reject Wilson. "It says a lot about the Midwest and the state of Iowa," he said. Veenstra, who last year introduced legislation--ultimately unsuccessful--to ban adoptions by gays and lesbians in Iowa, insisted that his public statements against Wilson were based on what his constituents want and not on bigotry.

The state senate's decision threatens the constitutional rights of not only gays, said Sharon Malheiro--president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in Des Moines--but also other minority groups. "It's like we have out" own religion," Malheiro said. "Where does this stop? What if we had someone who was Iranian? Could they say that it's a religious issue because of what's going on today in Iraq?"
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Politics
Author:Clayworth, Jason
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U4IA
Date:May 25, 2004
Words:422
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